Obama and the Chicago teachers’ strike – you reap what you sow

The President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, is putting a brave face on the “strike” by Chicago teachers. Only a few weeks ago she was lauding the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public School (CPS) system for having resolved their differences as it looked like a strike would be avoided.  Now she is gamely telling the PBS News Hour that this a “local” issue that has to be resolved locally, ignoring the fact that she was on national TV explaining this.

Behind the scenes she, and many other pro-Democratic Party labor leaders, are pulling their hair out.  There could not have been a worse time to pick a fight like this with the city of Obama just as he emerged from his highly successful Democratic party convention. That convention was a convention in name only, of course, as video of LA mayor Villaraigosa ignoring the clear vote of the delegates on key issues indicated.  It was political theater of the highest order, hitting its peak not with the speech of the President, but with the speech of the former President, Bill Clinton, who likely helped many voters ease their growing doubts about the Obama Administration.

Now a strike by the CTU over issues that are murky and confusing to the average citizen threatens to distract the electorate just as the Obama campaign picks up lost momentum.

How could this have happened?

The ironic answer is that President Obama himself deserves some of the blame. At the top of the CTU leadership is a group of political activists for whom the health and well being of students is not the top priority much less the bread and butter concerns of their fellow union teachers. Instead, they are the hard core of a highly ideological milieu that has over the last decade or more burrowed their way into the teachers’ union.

Now they have their hands on the levers of power of a large urban union and are doing what no sane union leader would do, namely striking at a point where they are least likely to gain allies among Democrats and others on the left whom they normally could, and should, count on in a battle of this magnitude.

Only a group with a different agenda than that of the genuine labor movement would take such a huge risk. Actually, from their standpoint – one which advocates “r-r-radical” change – it makes a peculiar kind of sense because it appears to demonstrate their intransigence. While stalwart militancy can be a valuable trait in a labor leader, mindless militancy of the sort on display among the top leaders of the CTU is dangerous. For too long the democratic left inside the AFT and elsewhere has ignored these risks.

What animates this “mindless militancy”? It is the so-called “social justice” ideology propagated by a sectarian element in American schools of education and among their teacher graduates by individuals like Linda Darling-Hammond, Bill Ayers, Mike Klonsky, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Peter MacLaren and others.

Thus, Karen Lewis, the new “fist in the air” fire brand president of the CTU in the words of her ally the Maoist education activist Mike Klonsky. Lewis recently traveled to Seattle not to discuss the tragedy of poor student outcomes in our nation’s schools but to rally the “Shock Doctrine” troops among the social justice crowd to take over the teachers’ union.

Lewis appears in fact to be more likely a “sheep in wolf’s clothing.” She signed off on legislation last year that severely restricted her own union’s collective bargaining rights. The bill was attacked as union-busting by one Illinois legislator. Worse, Lewis apparently did this behind the backs of her own union members who hit the roof when they learned of the move. In other words, any “militancy” being shown now by Lewis may be a dysfunctional form of compensation for her role in weakening her own union.

Keep in mind that I put quotes around “social justice” because this crowd’s “social justice” ideology has nothing to do with the social justice agenda of the genuine labor movement or the civil rights movement. This is, instead, an agenda about gaining political power, not for the students and teachers of our blighted urban schools, but for the advocates of “social justice” and its allied ideas such as multiculturalism and identity politics.

While proposed as something radical it is important to keep in mind how conservative and reactionary this ideology is, in fact. It represents a retreat from the genuinely progressive and radical agenda of the civil rights movement and the labor movement. And it is therefore not a surprise to realize that this new “social justice” agenda emerged in the wake of the defeat of those earlier democratic movements in the late 70s and early 80s.

The ideology actually leads the labor movement backwards into the divisive morass of politically correct identity politics. In the world of education, for example, it actually helped support the pro-corporate school “choice” movement by the formation of politically correct small schools like the “Social Justice” high school in Chicago. Not a surprise that figures like Ayers and Klonsky back the same idea as one supported by the Gates Foundation.

Thus, instead of creating democratic, transparent institutions that can lead us out of the crisis in our schools, this “social justice” crowd functions like a mirror image of the corporate education reform crowd they so loudly denounce. This faux radical milieu has, in fact, given up, sometimes explicitly, on wider social solutions, such as integration, to the problems of city schools. They promote absurd arguments that the schools are the moral equivalent of apartheid and promote a form of reparations for slavery in the name of repaying what they call the “education debt” that allegedly has accumulated over 400 years.

If some of this sounds vaguely familiar to followers of Presidential politics, it should. This is the very same agenda that Barack Obama promoted when he was an active leader in the “Chicago School Wars” of the late 80s and 1990s. Back then he joined forces with education professor Bill Ayers to lead the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC). Together Ayers and Obama pumped tens of millions of dollars into the Chicago school system with two goals: one, to promote explicitly the politically correct “social justice” agenda by financing curriculum that imposed their views on teachers and students; and two, the financial support of Local School Councils (LSCs) which were established in 1988 after a very unpopular teachers strike in Chicago.

The LSCs were very unpopular with teachers because they set up a new power base for community activists to monitor and control teachers. Ayers and Obama were well aware of this, of course, and fought within the CAC to make sure millions of dollars went to this institution precisely to help undermine the power of the CTU and its then traditional labor leadership, as well as the central power at CPS and the Chicago mayor’s office.  To do this, they had to overcome the opposition of then Mayor Daley who tried to get the Annenberg Challenge to give him the huge grant instead. And they battled with establishment figures like Arnold Weber, former President of Northwestern University and a very skilled and experienced labor economist, who fear precisely what happened: that the LSC’s and the Ayers/Obama “social justice” agenda would become a political weapon.

Of course, with this kind of ambitious political agenda it should not be a surprise to learn that that the CAC money had no impact at all on improving outcomes for students!  The CAC’s own research arm completed an exhaustive study to reach this conclusion once all the money was spent.

But the CAC was judged a huge success by Ayers, Obama and allies like Mike Klonsky (the 60s maoist who reinvented himself under Ayers’ tutelage as an “education expert”).  A new political front was now opened up by them inside the Chicago schools. This story was largely ignored during the 2008 campaign not least because the mainstream media had another agenda – electing Obama.

Thus, most prominently, the New York Times “debunked” the easy side of the Ayers/Obama relationship (that Obama had no connection to Ayers role in the Weather Underground and violent political tactics) while ignoring their very substantial work together during the Chicago School Wars and beyond, well into the period of Obama’s presidential campaign. See posts here, here, here and here. As I said at the time, the Times won the David Blaine magic award for making that issue disappear. They even ignored a report by their friends at the New Yorker magazine contradicting their reporting.

And the Ayers/Obama/Klonsky “social justice” milieu now had an institutionalized role in the CPS. That eventually led to the emergence of a layer within the CTU itself that challenged its traditional (and progressive and African American) leadership. Despite the many decades of achievement by that leadership, the CTU had proved incapable of dealing with the very severe challenges posed by dramatic socio-economic change in Chicago. This provided an opening for the “r-r-radicals” in the face of pressure from Chicago’s moneyed elite to shut down non-performing schools, lengthen the school day and reform the teacher evaluation process.

It would be one thing, of course, if this new milieu had a genuine agenda for reform of education that was linked to student capabilities. In other words, the test of their agenda is to ask, well, what will be the result for the students in a year, five years and ten years? But this group opposes measurement of the impact of reforms, despite the attempt of their own national leadership in the AFT to take this problem seriously. And it pushes for things like extended recess periods and art classes that likely are of value to students but hardly worth shutting down those same schools in a “strike” and leaving Chicago’s young children wandering the very dangerous streets of that gang-ridden city.

We are witnessing a train wreck in slow motion that cannot end well for Chicago teachers, their students or their union. Those same teachers will have to ask themselves some very important questions about how they ended up in this situation. But if President Obama is wringing his hands about how his own city and his own political allies could have created such a problem for him, then he should look in the mirror.

Behind the Ground Zero Mosque Imbroglio – Obama’s “Zebra Nation” worldview at work

zebraAnyone who listens to Obama’s Ramadan comments on the NYC Ground Zero mosque realizes he was certainly NOT making a legal argument about anyone’s rights.

After all, that argument is about whether the state would interfere with religious freedom and there is zero evidence that that was ever a risk to whomever is really behind this provocation.

So it follows that the proponents of the mosque hardly needed the intervention of the President of the United States to defend their constitutional freedoms.

The President in fact was making an argument FOR the mosque, for its political value in his eyes.  As he says to build the mosque is to assert (his idea of) our political values.

He is wrong about that but let’s at least get one thing clear: that speech was a calculated POLITICAL intervention, on the eve of the most important political period of his presidency. It seems he almost immediately realized the mistake he had made, stepping on yet another racial or ethnic land mine (recall there was first the Henry Louis Gates affair, then the Terror Trial in NYC idea and then Shirley Sherrod, and now the Mosque). That led to his attempt to draw an altogether too fine distinction between rights and common sense the next day.

But he said what he said and he clearly believed it. Watching the video makes clear his conviction and his welcoming of the applause it garnered from the White House Ramadan audience.

So what motivates this President to continually risk political capital in order to take provocative actions? There is a consistency to his efforts, it seems to me. His view is one shaped by the diversity politics of the last 25 years, an effort that represents in the US the larger form of stalinoid, third worldist and authoritarian politics as it exists in a post-Cold War era.

At the core is an attempt by a few to gain political leverage and power by exploiting actual ethnic or racial or class issues in a manner that does very little to resolve those issues but can do a lot to advance the cause of those few.  When the actual Communist Party was somewhat of a force in this country, for example, it used to profess to be concerned about the “black question.” And the party was able to attract many followers around the broad left from the 30s to the 70s because of its apparent commitment to racial equality. That is what explains the affiliation of figures like Paul Robeson or Frank Marshall Davis with the party if not actually in it.

Their line, however, was that racism was a permanent and enduring part of America because America was capitalist and once America was socialist it would then be possible to end racism. I actually heard that line used by CP trade unionists when I was a union activist in the 1980s. The reality, of course, was that the CP was only interested in its own bureaucratic survival and only if that was consistent with the political line of the Russian mother ship. The zig zag nature of the party drove as many thousands out of the party as into it over the years.

Unfortunately, some who were in its orbit adopted even harder and more authoritarian political views. And these began to infect the left as well, particularly in the late 60s and the 70s. This was the period in which people like Mike Klonsky, who was raised in a household that worshipped Joe Stalin, decided he would have to worship Chairman Mao after the Red Army crushed the Czech uprising of 1968. (It apparently never occurred to Klonsky to consider supporting the Czech people themselves! Certainly Mao was no more on their side than Deng’s crowd was on the side of the Tienanmen worker/student uprising.)

Klonsky and his comrades like Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in the SDS movement that morphed into a terror cult known as the Weather Underground put race politics in the forefront of their worldview. They actually adopted an even harsher version of the old CP line that America would be racist as long as it was capitalist. For them, “fighting racism” in ever more absurd fashion was the only way to be on the left.

And it was the race-based nature of their politics that Ayers took with him when he surfaced from the Underground and rejoined his former SDS comrade, Klonsky, in a wing of the American world of education policy. There Ayers propagated a revised version of his race politics and recruited Barack Obama to help him carry it out through the $150 mn Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The core of their message was to use the despair of minority and poor parents to attempt to break the power of the teachers’ union and the Chicago school administration in favor of “local school councils.”

This reactionary idea of “local control” of schools by parents was first trotted out in 1968 by the black power movement and SDS in New York City where it led to a very difficult strike by mostly white teachers. When Ayers and Obama got involved in the late 80s they used the same idea to target a largely black teachers’ union relying on the support of hispanic community groups! No wonder they got praise from the Heritage Foundation and support from wings of the Chicago business elite.

Thus the heart and soul of Obama’s race politics, shaped by figures like Ayers and Valerie Jarrett during the Chicago School Wars, was to view America as an indelibly racist nation. Diversity politics fits this mold perfectly because it erases the notion of “e pluribus unum” and replaces it with what some around Obama apparently call “Zebra Politics” – the idea that we live in a “Zebra Nation” with its permanently divided black and white stripes. (As best as I can determine the idea was borrowed, inaptly, from South Africa, a nation which has suffered a very different form of racial division.)

In our “Zebra Nation,” resolution of racial and ethnic division in favor of a genuinely integrated and pluralist nation is impossible so provocative demands are used instead to gain leverage by “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” thus shocking any (white) people from responding or even better clearing the room entirely and allowing control of the space to shift.  Examples abound: calling for open borders with Mexico, waving Mexican flags en masse at immigrant rights’ marches, abandoning the goal of Brown v. Board of Education and integration in schools and housing and instead calling for a return to Plessy v. Ferguson and “separate but equal,” or, in an international context, the so-called Gaza “Freedom” Flotilla.

This same approach is what lies behind the provocation of proposing the mosque in the first place and Obama was clearly intent on riding that sentiment. And that is a way of understanding his use of the Henry Gates situation, the Sherrod affair and the Terror Trial in NYC.

Of course, many on the left fall for this phoney radicalism just as they did in the era of the CP. Then, the CP was really an arm of the Kremlin but posed as a radical anti-racist pro-worker organization. Yet it would not fail to betray its radicalism at the whim of its Moscow handlers. Those on the left today who fall for the apparent radicalism of a Bill Ayers or a Barack Obama or a Van Jones or a Valerie Jarrett should pay attention to what is happening with economic and foreign policy. The same bankers who nearly destroyed the economy remain in power, GM is back after shedding its unruly workers at plants like Fremont, California and the predator drones continue their illegal and deadly flights.

The Obama Paradox

I first wrote this in February in the wake of the Haitian disaster. It reads, sadly, as prescient today in the wake of our environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf.

Obama vexedThere is an intriguing paradox at work inside the Obama Presidency. Initially, it looks hard to explain.

On the one hand, many critics and opponents of Obama claim that he represents some kind of radical ideology influenced by the authoritarian milieu that emerged in the late 1960s around figures like Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and Mike Klonsky in the Students for a Democratic Society and its violent offshoot, the Weather Underground.

Some on the left of the Obama campaign confirmed this, including Manning Marable of Columbia who noted, approvingly, that “a lot of the people working with [Obama] are, indeed, socialists with backgrounds in the Communist Party or as independent Marxists. There are a lot of people like that in Chicago who have worked with him for years.”  Marable is a long time presence in this same milieu and is certainly in a position to know what he is talking about.

Of course, readers of King Harvest and its predecessor Global Labor are well aware of the intimate ties between Obama and Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn going back more than two decades, including the alliance formed between Ayers and Obama at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in midst of the Chicago School Wars of the 1990s.

So assuming that the critics, opponents, and left wing friends of Obama, not to mention me, are all correct about the significance of this melange of authoritarian “leftists” in Obama’s political development and success, how is it that his Administration appears, to say the least, disappointing to these same figures? On health care, the closing of Guantanamo, job creation, you name it, this Administration, far from appearing left wing, appears almost feckless and weak, unwilling to flex the power of the Presidency on any issue of importance to the left.

Some of Obama’s closest allies are now expressing consternation. Berkeley Law Dean Chris Edley, an aggressive promoter of racialist politics, was brought into the Obama campaign to whip white staffers into line at the home of Valerie Jarrett, the black confidante of the President. Now Edley has himself apparently turned on the Administration calling it “complacent.” (Edley reserves most of his bile for Obama’s white chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, while never even mentioning Jarrett.) Even Bill Ayers has publicly criticized the Administration, although not Obama personally, on the escalation of the war in Afghanistan.

Of even greater potential to damage the humanitarian credentials and long term legacy of Obama is his stubborn unwillingness to take any serious leadership role in confronting the Haitian disaster. As noted on King Harvest recently, the Haitians themselves want a much bigger role for the US military. Ironically, Obama took on board as a personal foreign policy advisor early in his Senate career the most stanch advocate of humanitarian intervention by the US military, Harvard’s Samantha Power. Now Power is a National Security Council staffer, yet the US delayed deployment of US troops to Haiti, did not even show up for a key UN vote on the crisis and seems content to let the country descend into a Katrina-like crisis in the unfolding recovery period.

So there we have it, Obama the radical has turned into Obama the feckless. That’s the paradox that requires explanation. Of course, one could dismiss as irrelevant, as some do, Obama’s lifelong radical affiliations and influences from his mother’s third worldism, to his mentorship by the noted stalinist poet and journalist Frank Marshall Davis, to his affinity for the black nationalist politics of Jeremiah Wright, to the identity politics now rampant in many quarters of the progressive movement and the Democratic party. But the evidence of his tendencies is pretty overwhelming, even if he carefully tailored certain comments in order to maintain his electability.

So what can explain the actual impact of the Administration? I would suggest two possibilities.

First, as I suggested during the campaign itself, the problem with the kind of mentorship that Obama got while on the way up, from figures like Ayers and Wright, has left him woefully unprepared for the job he actually was elected to carry out.

When I listen to the comments of people like Bill Ayers or Carl Davidson of Progressives for Obama (oops, now Progressive America Rising – such fair weather friends!) it seems to me they really think that their organizing activities within the Obama campaign were the equivalent to being an anti-war Bolshevik in 1917 Russia as millions of workers, peasants and soldiers abandoned the front and stormed the barricades. That’s a bit of hyperbole but the tendency is certainly felt in their comments and I would submit Obama himself may have thought he could, indeed, “fundamentally transform” this country, as Obama said just a few days before his Inauguration.

Of course, Obama was, in fact, mounting a campaign to become President of the United States, still, by far, the dominant military and capitalist power on the planet (and beyond).  There is a good reason for the normal range of ideologies among credible candidates for President to be relatively narrow – the requirements for the job are set in stone by the structure of power that the Presidency represents.  A true left wing movement would not delude itself as these people do into thinking that something like the Obama Hope campaign had any hope whatsoever of altering that power structure.

Nonetheless, here we are, with a small group of self described radicals in part responsible for placing in the Presidency our first “radical” President. Of course I use that term advisedly to mark the peculiar stalinoid and authoritarian nature of the politics that marked Obama’s rise to power. But those politics offer Obama no serious guidelines for the actual exercise of the immense power that he now, potentially, wields.

In fact, it gets worse. The problem facing Obama goes deeper. Not only does he not really know what to do with this power, to the extent that he would like to do more that is consistent with his “radical” values he finds himself trapped. To begin to carry out such policies in any serious way would open him up to attack from the right, even from the center. In fact, it is very likely that even rational measures that would not be off limits to a typically liberal Democratic President, such as more aggressive use of the United Nations, are off limits to Obama because they are viewed by his closest advisors as hot button items likely to raise, once again, the charge by the right of the specter of radicalism.

This dynamic may go a long way to explaining the confused and frightening incompetence surrounding events like Haiti or the Christmas underwear bomber interrogation as well as the continuing confusion about how to deal with the Wall Street financial crisis.

Thus it is that the enthusiasm and optimism that marked Obama’s ascension to the Presidency has within a year descended dangerously close to what can only be called a failed Presidency.

The New York Times Blames Bloggers For Their Headaches….

I sent the following letter to The New York Times‘ “Public Editor” Clark Hoyt yesterday:

Dear Mr. Hoyt,

I find it curious that you are concerned that it is the blogging side of the Times that may be the problem as you did recently in your column A Private Room with a Public View. In fact, I think the blogging world is keeping the Times more honest than it might otherwise be.

Let me give you a small, albeit personal example.

During the recent presidential campaign the Times ran a long story by Scott Shane who reported that Bill Ayers had no role in the appointment of Barack Obama to the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an important school reform non profit corporation established in Chicago in 1995 by Bill Ayers, among others.

I was interviewed several times by Mr. Shane as he was preparing the story and although he initially offered, for some odd reason, to allow me to talk to him off the record, I chose not to do so. I have been interviewed hundreds of times by the media over the years and that was the first time a reporter started an interview by suggesting I go off the record about material that I had already put in the public domain! I was also interviewed prior to this by two other Times reporters who were also working on stories related to Ayers and Obama, on the record.

I was interviewed because I had done extensive blogging throughout the campaign on the Ayers/Obama relationship with particular attention to the Annenberg Challenge.  (At the time I blogged at Global Labor and now blog at King Harvest.)

The Annenberg Challenge was important to the Obama/Ayers story because it was clear to anyone who paid attention to it that if Ayers had a role in naming Obama to the Challenge board it meant that the Ayers/Obama relationship was different than that described by Obama himself. It also meant the relationship was older than the Times had previously reported.

I explained to Mr. Shane that my research demonstrated that Ayers had indeed legal authority to appoint Mr. Obama and that he had exercised that authority. I provided Mr. Shane with the contemporary written documentation that backed up my conclusion, including letters to and from Brown University President Vartan Gregorian and Mr. Ayers. President Gregorian was tasked by Walter Annenberg to help establish the national Annenberg Challenge. Yet Mr. Shane did not mention the material in his story and relied instead on interviews with two other participants in the planning for the Challenge conducted thirteen years after the contemporary written documentation. Even those interviews were inconclusive as I explained to Mr. Shane and that one of the individuals he interviewed had made it clear to another journalist that Ayers had played a role in the appointment process consistent with my analysis.

(David Remnick of The New Yorker has now confirmed Ayers’ role in the appointment of Obama to the Challenge board in his recently published book The Bridge.  He relied on unnamed source(s) as he explained in a recent interview on the Milt Rosenberg show.)

Absurdly, after the Times’ story ran and I registered my objections, Mr. Shane had the temerity to suggest to me that “it must be nice” to be a blogger because you can just say anything you want. Yet it was he who quoted people saying “anything they wanted” without providing Times readers the written documentation that would allow them to see what actually happened.  I replied to the Shane piece, in a blog, that you can find here: http://stephen-diamond.com/?p=379

Perhaps the Times’ bloggers need to spend some time in the real blogging world, not tethered to a print outlet, where the bloggers I know work hard to get it right.


Stephen F. Diamond

The Myth of the “Manchurian President”

images-2Two of the most vociferous and reactionary figures in the anti-Obama movement have now joined forces to put together the latest attack on the President. Aaron Klein and Brenda Elliott are co-authors of  The Manchurian President, a book I would typically glance at and ignore but for the fact that it is being pounced upon by the Paleo-right wing as evidence for the hidden “communist” agenda of the President.

Of course, I have been someone who has not shied away from criticizing Obama and the Chicago-based milieu around him. And while there are distant links between some in that milieu and what once was a moderately influential Communist movement in this country there is no evidence whatsoever that Obama is even remotely influenced by actual Communist ideas today. By “Communist” here I mean the American stalinist movement that had a largish following in the 30s but had dwindled to irrelevance within a few decades. When it actually meant something, that stalinist milieu included people like the Steelworkers Union father of Chicago SEIU leader Tom Balanoff who challenged the corrupt leadership of that big industrial union.  But that milieu has long since deteriorated and has been replaced by narrow minded identity and interest group politics that makes Tammany Hall look relatively progressive. (To get an idea of how far the apple falls from the tree, read this thoughtful and sincere look at the SEIU operation Balanoff runs today, authored by an actual Communist.)

What types like Klein call “communist” is actually an authoritarian and bureaucratic approach to social and economic problems that has nothing in common with the heart and soul of a genuinely democratic and progressive left wing politics. There is nothing whatsoever in common with, on the one hand, the American left of Eugene Debs, of Michael Harrington, of the international democratic movements like Polish Solidarity and, on the other, the movements favored by the ilk around Obama such as Bill Ayers’ love affair with Hugo Chavez.

Of course, in order to try to smear that genuine democratic left the Kleins and Elliotts of the world do not hesitate whenever they can to suggest that authoritarian neo-stalinists like Ayers ARE the left, full stop.

This important distinction is irrelevant to the Kleins and Elliotts of the world who have another agenda. But making such a distinction is part of articulating an independent and democratic left viewpoint and so important on a wide range of issues, such as the financial collapse of the last several years, our continued illegal and immoral invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, our horrific continued use of illegal detentions on Guantanamo and who knows where else, our assassinations of insurgents through the use of predator drones….the list could go on.

Thus, to understand the Obama presidency and the milieu which got him there is a more complex process than just trying to red-bait Valerie Jarrett because her father-in-law wrote for a newspaper in the 1940s (!) that was sympathetic to the Communist Party. If political analysis were that simple we would live in a different era – oh, right, we did once live in that era, it was called the Cold War. But that ended more than two decades ago and in the meantime the nature of authoritarian politics has changed as well.

Let me suggest – again – one simple test of the proposition I am arguing for here.

According to Klein and Elliott, Bill Ayers and Barack Obama met in 1988 (at least so stated Klein on Hannity earlier this week) during an effort to reform Chicago schools. Although I have speculated that such a meeting might have taken place and that it might even be considered likely in light of Ayers’ willingness to appoint Obama as Chairman of the education reform foundation he founded called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in 1995, I have said time and again there is NO public evidence anywhere for such speculation. (I have run an interview with the letter carrier for the Ayers family who recalls meeting Obama outside the home of the Ayers in the mid 80s but while I consider the interview credible, no independent confirmation has yet surfaced. In fact, while the interview actually suggests a close relationship between Obama and the Ayers’ family, it actually makes it less likely that Obama’s first meeting with Ayers took place in 1988 in a school reform campaign, as Klein and Elliott contend was the case.)

And Klein and Elliott provide no new evidence here and the evidence they do cite does not demonstrate what they say is the case.

For example, they cite a report prepared in 1991 by Mary O’Connell for Designs for Change, a Chicago school reform advocacy group that was a critical player in the 1988 reform process, to establish that Ayers and Obama met in 1988.

But the O’Connell report contains no such evidence.

What the O’Connell report does say is that in 1988 an group called Alliance for Better Chicago Schools, or ABCs, was formed under the leadership of a Chicago business lobby called Chicago United and that one of the membership groups in ABCs was Developing Communities Project, which at the time was headed up by Barack Obama. The report also says that in 1991 (not 1988) the contact person for ABCs was Bill Ayers.

A profile of Bill Ayers that ran in the Chicago Reader in 1990, which is also cited by Klein and Elliott but I think is stretched to fit their conclusion, describes Ayers’ participation in meetings of the ABCs group but leaves unstated when he began participating. It suggests indirectly, I believe, that his role in ABCs only began after the passage of the reform act in 1988, and thus likely after Obama had left for Harvard Law School. I asked its author Ben Joravsky in an email exchange in 2008 whether he could recall whether anyone told him when Ayers began attending the ABCs sessions and he said they did not. In his article, Joravsky says “Few members of the school reform movement can say for certain when it was that they first met Ayers. It was as though one day they looked and he was there.”  But that goes unmentioned by Klein and Elliott.

Frankly it beggars belief to conclude that someone as notorious as Bill Ayers, and someone who was brand new to the heated education reform process of the time, could have played a leadership role in ABCs during the run-up to the legislation when it had the backing of the mayor and leading civic figures, as opposed to later when the organization had withered to being a weak outside monitor of school reform.

In Manchurian President the authors also imply that in 1988 Chicago United, which took the lead in forming ABCs, was headed up by Thomas Ayers, father of Bill, and a longstanding and powerful member of the Chicago liberal establishment. While Tom Ayers had indeed taken a leading role in forming Chicago United in 1968 (!) by 1988 he was 73 years old and from the available evidence it seems his leadership role had long passed on to others. There is no public record I am aware of that suggests Tom Ayers was still the head of Chicago United in 1988, that he played any role at all in forming ABCs, that he had any role in recruiting Barack Obama to ABCs, or that his son Bill was either in ABCs at that time or met Barack Obama at ABCs meetings at that time.

What we do know is that Ayers came back to Chicago in 1987 as a junior professor and at first joined in supporting the teachers strike of that year but then soon joined the anti-union reform effort led by ABCs and other community organizations. That anti-union reform effort led to the creation of local school councils as a watch dog over teachers and principals.

This form of “local control” was a longstanding favorite policy of Ayers and others in and around the SDS and new Left. Members of that movement went so far, in fact, with this idea that they opposed a teachers union strike in New York in 1968 including scabbing on the teachers by crossing their picket lines to teach. Fast forward twenty years and Ayers once again was hot for the idea of “local control” even over the opposition of the unions, Operation PUSH and the Urban League.

Far from being a leftist idea, local control was the brain child of conservative thinkers who then and now think the teachers unions are the problem with education. They try to manipulate poor and desperate parents of minority students into scapegoating the unions instead of confronting the real and deep structural problems that actually create the serious educational deficits found in our inner cities and across many (white) rural areas today.

No wonder the Heritage Foundation was willing to sympathetically report on the Chicago reforms backed by Ayers. The politics of Ayers and Obama in 1988 in fact opened the door to the choice and voucher politics of the market ideologues in education policy today.

While there remains no proof that Obama first met Ayers in 1988, Obama does admit and the public record confirms that his DCP was a strong supporter of the local control experiment, one of the few black organizations to join the ABCs group. Thus, what is important about this history today is that it indicates the sympathy that Barack Obama had then for such authoritarian and anti-teacher ideas.

His recent support for the mass firing of Rhode Island teachers, his appointment of Arne Duncan, the keynote appearance of Bill Ayers at a pro-identity politics multicultural education conference in D.C. where Duncan was also a keynote speaker – these indicate the continuing sympathy of Obama for the reactionary and authoritarian approach of the 1988 period and indeed the approach of the controversial Chicago Annenberg Challenge in the mid 1990s. (Even the pro-School Board and establishment figure Arnold Weber opposed the Ayers approach to spending Annenberg money – Obama stepped in and got Ayers the money he wanted.)

Obama’s support for race-based approaches to problems that cannot be solved on racial lines alone, as indicated for example in his appointment of figures like Van Jones or nominations to the bench of Sonia Sotomayor and Goodwin Liu, suggest a lineage back to his original foray into race-based politics in the Chicago School Wars, as they were called in the late 80s and 1990s. Obama was not afraid then to stand against the black majority in Chicago when he led the DCP into the ABCs and their failed local control effort nor was he afraid to ally himself with Bill Ayers in the leadership of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge against the Daley Administration and the teachers union.

But this distinction between the authoritarian anti-union and anti-democratic local control ideology of Obama and Ayers and what could be a genuinely democratic approach to school reform is a nuance that is too significant for Klein and Elliott to recognize. They are hell bent on proving that there is a secret about Obama that harks back to the spies of the Cold War, to the manipulation of naive American leftists by stalinist hacks in the Communist Party and Moscow – thus they stretch the minimal public record into a phoney “gotcha” moment about Ayers and Obama.

There are times when the remark “Nothing to see here, move along” can be used without irony. This is one of them.

New Yorker’s Remnick Confirms Ayers Role in Obama Rise to Power

the-bridge2In his just published biography The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama David Remnick of The New Yorker magazine confirmed the role of Bill Ayers in the appointment of Barack Obama to the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC).

Remnick writes in his book that “Ayers helped bring Obama onto the Annenberg board.”

The CAC was a foundation conceived by Ayers and then, with others, designed and led by him, relying on a large initial grant from Walter Annenberg that was then matched by additional donations to implement educational reforms in the city’s troubled schools. It was later judged to have failed at improving student outcomes.

Remnick gives no exact details or source for the revelation.  His account confirms the Ayers role which was explained here on King Harvest (in its previous incarnation as Global Labor) almost two years ago in a post called then “Who ‘Sent’ Obama.” It is probably only a coincidence, but the Remnick chapter that includes the revelation about Ayers is called “Somebody Nobody Sent.” The odd grammar is actually a reference to an old Chicago political story that was the inspiration for my 2008 post.

The New York Times on the other hand had reported during the presidential campaign that “Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment” to the board. This led to the impression that Ayers was not a key figure in Obama’s rise to political prominence in Chicago. In several interviews with The New York Times I explained patiently to its writer Scott Shane that only Ayers had the legal authority to appoint board members to the founding board of the Challenge. The explanation was ignored by the Times. See my response to The Times here.

The appointment to the board was a major step up in the career of the young lawyer Obama who had recently returned to Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law School.  A few months after his spring 1995 appointment to the CAC board, Obama would be invited to the Hyde Park home of Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn as part of the launch of his first political campaign to win the seat of departing state senator Alice Palmer.  The Times also first reported that that Hyde Park meeting was the first time Obama met Ayers and Dohrn and then later changed that story – without explanation or apology to its readers – when it found out that Ayers had lunch with Obama to discuss the CAC earlier that year.

Because of Ayers’ and Dohrn’s well known past as members of the violent authoritarian cult known as the Weather Underground in the early 1970s, supporters of Obama went to great lengths to distance Obama from any link to Ayers and Dohrn despite the fact that the relationship was well understood in Hyde Park and wider Chicago political circles.

The CAC was set up by Ayers to push his peculiar “social justice” agenda in the Chicago school system including support for a controversial school reform measure known as “Local School Councils” or LSC’s.  The LSC’s were set up in the late 80s, with the support then of both Ayers and Obama to use parents as a battering ram against teachers and principals, in the wake of a controversial teachers’ strike. Mainstream civil rights groups like Operation PUSH opposed the reform because of its anti-teacher and anti-union animus. Hundreds of principals were pushed out of their positions over the next several years until the state legislature stepped back in and re-centralized control of hiring.  For more background see my post here.

Ayers, of course, would never have helped engineer the Obama appointment if he were not dead certain that Obama would lead the CAC in the right direction.  During its seven year existence the foundation was in a pitched battle with the Daley Administration which wanted to centralize school management and even tried to convince the Annenberg Foundation to not fund the Ayers proposal.  That implies, of course, that Ayers and Obama had a closer and longer term relationship. While no mainstream media has reported that as of yet, King Harvest was told that a senior Obama campaign activist and long time Democratic Party supporter confirmed the relationship went back to the 1980s.

While Ayers and Dohrn have moved away from their violent past, neither has ever formally apologized for the violence and destruction they were part of and Ayers at least leaves open the possibility that he would engage in violence again.  While the physical damage the Weather Underground inflicted was relatively minor, the political damage was severe.  For many decades the reputation of the tiny terrorist group has tainted the entire left.

Ayers and Dorhn are now part of a larger milieu made up of supporters of multiculturalism and identity politics which now dominates what many think of as the left despite this milieu’s inherent inability to build a wider democratic movement for progressive social change.  Figures like Van Jones, Valerie Jarrett, Chris Edley, Goodwin Liu and Linda Darling-Hammond all are a part of this identity politics milieu and are or have been close advisors of Obama.  Several have links to Ayers and Dohrn professionally or politically over many years as well.

The consistent thread in the political world view of Ayers and Dohrn over many decades can be found in their hostility to the democratic labor movement. Thus, they were openly hostile to unions in the 1970s and Ayers’ approach to education reform has often put him at odds with unionized teachers.  His approach seems to have rubbed off on the new President who recently backed the wholesale dismissal of the entire teaching staff of a Rhode Island public school and who has backed reform efforts that hark back to the anti-teacher politics of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and Chicago’s Local School Councils.

Now that Remnick has confirmed the crucial professional link between Ayers and Obama at a turning point in the latter’s career a lot about the President’s background and politics begins to make more sense.

Sweet Turns Sour: What Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet Won’t Admit

sweet_60The Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet criticized Sarah Palin here for discussing the Bill Ayers controversy in her new book yesterday. Sweet says Palin was wrong about the significance of the now infamous Fall, 1995, meet and greet hosted for Barack Obama by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in their Hyde Park home

But Sweet did not quite get the story right and has so far refused to post my comment on her blog explaining why so I am posting it here for my readers. (And I promise that if Sweet wants to reply I will post her comment!)

You are partly right about Palin’s take on Ayers.

It would have been more accurate to say that Ayers played a significant role in launching Obama’s career, and certainly the meet and greet with Alice Palmer and Obama in the Ayers/Dohrn living room was not the only thing that Ayers did for Obama.

There is, for example, Ayers’ appointment of Obama to the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge earlier that year and, if biographer Christopher Andersen is right, there is Ayers’ role in helping Obama finish his memoir Dreams of my father the year before.

However, it was, I believe, Quentin Young who said the purpose of the meet and greet was to introduce Obama to the Hyde Park/Kenwood left. That introduction was certainly a critical contribution to Obama’s success in the upcoming campaign in light of Palmer’s own pro-Soviet politics.

And I thought conservatives had a mind of their own….

The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece recently that caught my attention. It’s here. It’s an attack on the shift in Obama’s human rights policy apparently written by Brett Stephens and appearing in the WSJ on October 19.

The only problem is that it looks an awful lot like my two blog posts more than a week earlier here and, to a lesser extent, here.

The repeat by Stephens of the cut-off in funding to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was what got me thinking, are conservatives now turning to the democratic left for the substance of their critique of Obama?

Of course, Stephens puts a typical neo-con twist on his piece, accusing Obama of “appeasement.”

My view is that Obama’s policy of “strategic reassurance” is a return to realism from neo-conservatism – that is, a view that we care less now about what is happening internally in countries like Iran than whether Iran is simply a national security threat. That’s what led me to write this earlier blog post: Obama – a liberal mugged by real politik.

It is unfortunate that some of our nation’s leading human rights advocates like Harold Koh and Michael Posner are now providing a kind of fig leaf for the new Obama policy by serving in the Administration.

I critiqued the “new realism” taking hold within the human rights community here. I argue that the broad human rights agenda should be the basis of independent movements for democracy not a rationalization for imperial American foreign policy

I emailed Alan Murray, executive editor at the Journal, to ask him to compare what I had written with what Stephens wrote, but got the typical “mailbox full” response. It’s the same old one way street between the blogosphere and the MSM.

Ironically, the last time something like this happened it was The New York Times. Three of their reporters interviewed me five times about the longstanding relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, but then ignored the critical evidence I provided demonstrating that Ayers appointed Obama as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. They made an oblique reference in the story (by Scott Shane) to bloggers without having the integrity to actually cite me. You can read my reactions to that incident here.

Berkeley Law’s Edley Joins Ayers Renaissance – Maoist Klonsky Applauds

Microsoft Word - final bios.docAlthough exiled to California after the election, one of the key “racism explains everything” advisors around the Obama campaign, Berkeley Law Dean Chris Edley, has resurfaced to push the Obama Administration away from its school choice and competition trajectory. He joins Bill Ayers now in the open as a battle appears to be looming over the direction of the Obama Administration on education issues.  Ayers lifelong “comrade,” the Maoist Mike Klonsky, applauds the effort here.

Ayers recently was the luncheon keynote speaker at a Washington D.C. conference at which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also spoke. The conference was sponsored by the Renaissance Group, a coalition of Schools of Education that supports multiculturalism and believes white teachers need “lengthy” re-education in “multiculturalism” and “sex equity awareness” in order to teach effectively the “new [non-white] American student.” In light of the effort to minimize the associations between Ayers and Obama during the campaign, this event was notable.

mikejpgKlonsky will be remembered by some as the famous disappearing education policy blogger for the Obama campaign. You can learn more about him here, here and here. Long story, short: Klonsky was comrades in the SDS with Ayers and became a Maoist, of all things, when the Soviet Union (his former object of affection) crushed the Prague Spring in 1968. Klonsky got a Ph.D. in education under Bill Ayers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He and Ayers then set up the Small Schools Workshop with Klonsky’s wife Susan in the early 90s. The Workshop received nearly a million dollars from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge founded in 1994-5 by Ayers and chaired by Obama.

ayers-obamaDean Edley, along with Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Edley’s Associate Dean at Berkeley Goodwin Liu, were key members of the education advisory group around the candidate. The group was viewed by more mainstream Democrats as part of the “Ayers Camp” in the Obama campaign, King Harvest/Global Labor had been told.  The group was said to have excluded individuals with more diverse views from the Obama team.

Continue reading Berkeley Law’s Edley Joins Ayers Renaissance – Maoist Klonsky Applauds

The “Renaissance” of Bill Ayers

images8In the recent hubbub about whether or not Bill Ayers really admitted to a conservative blogger in the Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington D.C. his actual role in the writing of Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father little attention has been paid to why, exactly, Bill Ayers happened to be in Washington, D.C. that day.

It turns out Ayers was one of three keynote speakers at a major conference organized by a consortium of schools of education at some 30 or so middle sized universities called The Renaissance Group.  Ayers was given the only keynote luncheon speaker spot at the conference. The two morning keynote speakers were none other than Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education – and former foe of Ayers (and Obama) in the Chicago School Wars, and Undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter.

Both Duncan and Kanter come from segments of the education policy world that are distinctly separate from the world of people like Bill Ayers, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond, and Berkeley law professors Chris Edley and Goodwin Liu.  Darling-Hammond, Edley and Liu were among the most important players in the Obama campaign on education issues and yet none of them received appointments in the new administration.

A major theme of the Renaissance organization is finding ways to educate the “New American Student,” as described in a statement published a few years after the founding of the group in 1989.  Prominent among the themes in this analysis – beyond the standard concern for early childhood education and math and science issues – are the significance of poverty, diversity and multiculturalism and the consequent alleged inability of white teachers to deal with the impact of such issues on their students.

Continue reading The “Renaissance” of Bill Ayers